Drew Becher, the CEO of the San Francisco Parks Alliance, readily admits he was skeptical about a four-day workweek.
He wondered: How would his team get all their work done in such a shortened time frame? Plus, there was some suspicion this was a Covid-era trend that might fizzle when things got back to a more normal cadence.
But the nonprofit was somewhat desperate to turn a corner on the hiring and retention issues that impacted myriad companies during the pandemic. Now, call Becher a believer.
A pilot program that started last August was first extended to February before being approved by the board as a permanent, full-time benefit subject to annual review and tweaks.
“I am an evangelist now,” Becher said. “Once I put my mind to it and understood how the organization could make it work, I was able to see how this is good for people with kids, good for people without kids and good for mental health. As long as you can keep doing what you set out to do as an organization, why not at least try it?”
The Parks Alliance took a page from a study spearheaded by the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global that included dozens of companies across the U.K. Out of the 61 companies that participated, 92% decided to continue with the four-day workweek, and 30% said they were making it a permanent change.
Strikingly, 15% of employees said that no amount of money would induce them to accept a five-day schedule over a four-day week.
Becher’s internal data details some of the reasons why. Work-life balance scores went from 2.6 to 4.8 out of 5, and turnover at the organization has plummeted over the last nine months.
The Parks Alliance generally chooses Friday for its additional day off, although that changes depending on seasonality and job functions. Becher himself spends his “day off’ meeting with donors and clearing the emails that stack up in his inbox. Other colleagues use the time to visit the city’s parks, run errands or do other types of internal work.
There was definitely an adjustment period to get new systems in place and communicate to partners about the new work structure. But it’s also forced the team to get more efficient and do more in less time. One example? Cutting one-hour meetings in half.
“If you fall back to a standard 30-minute meeting, you’d be amazed how much of a waste of time that other 30 minutes are,” Becher said.
Monograph, a San Francisco-based startup that makes project management software for architects and engineers, has had a four-day workweek structure since it started in 2017, giving all employees a “mid-weekend” on Wednesday.
In an article for Fast Company, Monograph CEO Robert Yuen wrote that the startup’s work structure has meant a reduction in burnout and increased company morale.
“Allotting employees an extra day a week to take care of themselves and their families can only help personally and professionally. It is important not to forget that the team is made up of real people living real lives,” Yuen wrote.
The company maintains a webpage that shows what employees have done with their additional day off including refurbishing old furniture, rock climbing and spending more time with family.
The four-day movement has been given some legislative heft in the form of a bill from Southern California congressman Mark Takano. The legislation, dubbed the Thirty-Two-Hour Workweek Act, was reintroduced in March after failing to get traction in the last legislative session.
The bill—which is endorsed by 4 Day Week Global and major labor unions—would reduce the standard workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and lower the threshold for overtime compensation for hourly employees.
While it wouldn’t immediately apply to typical office workers if passed, Tanako positions the bill as an equalizer in the work-like balance scale that he believes has been tipped firmly in the former’s favor.
“Workers across the nation are collectively reimagining their relationship to labor—and our laws need to follow suit,” Takano said in a statement. “We have before us the opportunity to make common sense changes to work standards passed down from a different era.”
Somewhat ironically, San Francisco was ahead of the debate by a half-century. In 1973, a coalition of labor unions put Proposition L on the ballot which would have reduced the workweek for city employees and contractors from 40 hours a week to 30, while receiving the same salary.
The proposition was roundly defeated with 81.3% of the vote. But perhaps in a sign of wider public acceptance of the concept, fewer work days as a company perk has become a competitive advantage.
“We’re a nonprofit trying to compete for the talent coming to the market with all the layoffs that you read about every day,” Becher said. “We can’t offer equity or stock, but this is something we figured out we could offer that might attract these types of people to come here.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org